50 trips to Socorro Island and I still find new experiences above and below the water to take my breath away – First Mate Log – May 17, 2010May 18, 2010
Good evening! This is first mate Sandy writing, from the beautiful Sea of Cortez near La Paz, Mexico. We have anchored in a small bay on the island of Espiritu Santo for the night, before heading back to the local California sea lion colony, Los Islotes, for some adrenaline-filled diving with some gregarious marine mammals tomorrow morning. It’s been more than 3 years since I’ve been on a trip to the Sea of Cortez, and there certainly is something magical about it. Some may say that her day is past – that the crowds of pleasure boats and luxury yachts have encroached upon the serenity of the islands, or that the inevitable byproducts of a dramatically increased human presence in Baja California has lead to a negative impact on the local ecosystem – but for anyone whose curiosity may have been piqued by Steinbeck’s classic will still find much to marvel at in the calm, turquoise waters or the stark desert coastline.
It has been my pleasure to work aboard the Nautilus Explorer for more than 4 years now, and although I may be fast approaching 50 completed voyages to the Islas Revillagigedo, Socorro and the Sea of Cortez (in addition to Alaska, the Channel Islands, British Columbia, Clipperton Island, and Isla Guadalupe – phew this boat gets around!), I still find new experiences above and below the water to take my breath away. Diving with giant manta rays, schooling hammerhead sharks, great white sharks, sea lions, dolphins, and humpback whales for many would be more than enough to hold the appeal of a unique job like this for many years, but in addition to all the wonderful natural splendour that we are exposed to in this work, I am also honoured and humbled to have had the opportunity, and the pleasure, of meeting many wonderful and fascinating people, crewmembers and guests alike, from all over the world. To be caught up in a swirl of languages, social backgrounds, political viewpoints (now now, let’s keep it controversy free!!), cultural differences, and unique perspectives, all from the shared common base of a love of the natural world, can be a heady experience and lead to very interesting discoveries about one’s self and the world around us.
Having only recently assumed the role of first mate onboard the Nautilus Explorer, I am enjoying the fresh challenges and learning experiences presented to me in my new capacity, even if I may sometimes complain about having less time in the water! Being involved in the management and planning side to keep an operation like this on an even keel can be quite an interesting adventure. For instance, it wasn’t until recently that I found out that this boat isn’t run on diesel fuel at all. In fact, it’s actually run by a combination of paper, emails, coffee, and checklists. Oh, so many checklists. So many checklists, that we’ve found ourselves having to make checklists for our checklists! Now I wouldn’t go so far as to describe it as Kafka-esque, although sometimes if I’m a little behind, it can certainly feel that way. But hey, that’s why I attended nautical school – to learn how to use a laminator!
The sheer distances and vast differences in cultural regions that we operate in can lead to their own interesting experiences. Around here, just to deal with our day to day work, we all need to speak English, Spanish, Spanglish, Espanglais, Franglish, French, Espancais, Englespanol, and simple pointing and grunting. Hand gestures take on a life of their own. The skill of screaming at people can sometimes be elevated to the status of art.
Boat driving, fixing things that are broken, ordering parts, dealing with bureaucratic paperwork and yelling at contractors can certainly take up a large slice of the workday pie, but whenever we can we all like to find the time to remind ourselves why we do all this in the first place. For me, I usually encounter at least one hour of every trip that brings it home to me why I do what I do. It may be underwater, eye to eye with a giant, beautiful, eerie manta ray. Or it may be on the top deck, on a quiet moonlit night in a secluded anchorage, gazing up at a limitless panoply of stars. Or perhaps it’s that moment of tranquility that occurs just as the last of 24 divers have just jumped off my skiff and dove beneath the surface, leaving only their bubbles breaking the still, dappled surface of a calm day at Cabo Pearce.
It is everyone’s right to complain about their jobs. And I believe that human nature is such that no matter how perfect things can be, someone will find something to complain about, even if they have to make it up. But the moments of magic that occur above and below the surface on every single trip I’ve ever been on are what keep me here, and keep me proud to be involved in such a unique operation such as this. It’s an experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything, and one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. If you don’t believe me, come on board and see for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Sandy Curtis, First Mate, Nautilus Explorer
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